Ever since I went to Thailand for vacation in 2011, I told myself I would go back for my Discovery Year. Having a place in mind and knowing exactly which field I wanted to pursue in my internship helped immensely in narrowing down my options. The phone call I received from United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) confirming my placement from the then Director of the Social and Human Sciences Unit (SHS) was a life-changing moment.
My internship was not merely by chance or by some good fortune; it was mostly orchestrated through a careful, deliberate strategy peppered with an almost over-zealous determination because working for the United Nations (UN) has always been my dream. Knowing that the UN of the Asia-Pacific was in Bangkok reinforced my resolve to take that first step towards my goal. The Unit I had selected deals with a broad range of subject including gender equality, sustainable development, education, human rights, bioethics and youth engagement to name a few. My major is in Environmental Studies but I’ve always held an ardent interest in the varied areas of the social sciences. In fact, I was enthusiastic at the prospect of learning outside my field as I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my horizons as well as to sharpen my existing knowledge on the aforementioned subjects.
My duties at UNESCO ranged from evaluating youth projects and creating project proposals aimed at youth empowerment and sustainable development, to compiling data sets useful for the unit. My unit allowed a lot of freedom when it came to my work assignments so they were largely designed according to my interests and skill sets so having initiative was extremely important. As an intern, I was allowed access to an enormous amount of knowledge banks and databases, some only under the auspices of the UN so when I was not attending to my tasks, my time was spent devouring information.
There were other perks to being a UN intern for example having the opportunity to attend UN organised events and conferences. The International Women’s Day event at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP) building was arguably the most memorable one for me. It was a great honour to have been in the presence of distinguished guests and speakers and I remembered being deeply moved by the theme of the event which centred on ending violence against women.
Working for the UN is not always serious global related work. In fact, UNESCO being situated separately from the UN Asia Pacific Headquarters, is actually a very laidback, fun and relaxed organisation by comparison. Whenever office personnel are not actively formulating policies, facilitating governance, organising events and dutifully committing to the mandates of the UN, an adequate amount of time is allocated towards building office relations and improving camaraderie. As such, I have participated in a few office events littered throughout my 5-month internship such as the Songkran Celebration (Thai New Year), the inter-unit bowling and karaoke party, the inter-unit self-defence classes and a number of farewell parties. Additionally since the work environment of the UN is in general an international one, I had the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of people from different countries and background especially with other fellow interns, many of whom I now consider to be lifelong friends. Moreover the proximity of Thailand to neighbouring ASEAN countries permitted me to travel conveniently and led me closer to my other dream of going to all the South East Asian nations. With Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos added to the list, I only have 3 other countries left to visit.
Being an intern for UNESCO was an incredibly enriching and fulfilling experience. It goes without saying that I’ve come away with a wealth of knowledge and a strengthened resolve towards realising my ambition. I also had an unbelievably great time living in my favourite city, making new friends, travelling around and experiencing so many new things. The memories that I’ve made whilst being there are those that I will treasure fiercely.
Although I have to admit there were a few challenges along the way but the attitude that I always exhibit to such challenges is that of perseverance and tenacity. In general, I regard difficulties with an air of obstinate defiance and my preferred form of countermeasure is to formulate a strategy to overcome them as efficiently as I can so giving up is never an option. On that note, the kind of advice I would give to the students of UBD are: having a specific goal is tremendously helpful; Google is your best friend, don’t give up until the very end, don’t be intimidated by challenges and don’t be afraid to try new things. The world is really full of opportunities and once you’re out there, it’s important to be aware that you’re competing with the rest of the globe so bringing in nothing but your best is the smartest move you’ll make.
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